The takeout slide at second base is an endangered species, at least in the form we're used to. There will be changes, possibly soon. People will complain and yelp for a few days. People on message boards and Internet forums will barricade themselves in the storm cellar, waiting out the torrent of all-caps posts and typo-ridden pleas, but the storm will pass. The rules will change. Everyone will get used to them.
Everyone will get used to them, and there will be fewer mangled knees and ankles. Buster Olney has some details and it looks like there won't be wholesale changes to the rules about sliding into second. There will be changes, though, and they're likely to come before the 2016 season. They won't prevent a runner from sliding into second base to break up a double play. They'll prevent a runner from targeting a middle infielder to break up a double play. There's a big difference.
You've already made up your mind if this is a good thing, and an article on good ol' SB Nation isn't going to change your mind. But if you want to know which side of history you're on, consider the impassioned arguments of one Shane Victorino, which Olney relayed:
I didn't save Shane Victorino's note, but the gist of what he wrote, as I recall, is that the effort to break up a double play was at the heart of the sport, a baserunner going all-out into second base and sacrificing his body in the effort to make a difference in that particular game. Removing that play, he wrote in so many words, would be to cut into the soul of the sport.
Yes, to Victorino, the soul of baseball is something like this:
Something like this:
Just a lil snip and tugger, milady:
Oh, come on.
To Victorino -- who wasn't a first-round prospect fast-tracked into the majors and is known for playing as hard as possible whenever possible and taking every angle he sees -- this is how baseball is supposed to be. It's how he made his career, his mark, his millions. And as a student of history, he's right. That's how baseball was played a century ago, and it's how baseball was played last October. People might look at those pictures and call Victorino a dirty player, but if any of those plays led to a run, the proper baseball term is hard-nosed or scrappy. Plays like that are absolutely a part of baseball tradition. A narrow definition of baseball tradition.
But civilization tends to move in the direction of, well, civility. Gentleman Jim Corbett used to rip the flesh from human faces by pounding, pounding, pounding them with his bare hands for several hours. Now there are boxing gloves. Kids used to die regularly in the early days of football and there was a war to make it safer. Now we have helmets and pads created using the full spectrum of modern technology and the war is still far from over. You might call it mollycoddling. History tends to describe it as common sense.
Fixing takeout slides was always going to be a delicate task, but it sounds like baseball is going down the right path. A blanket "all takeout slides are illegal" rule would be a mess. It would be up to the umpire's discretion and those guys are stretched a little thin already. Imagine an umpire declaring a runner out because he slid too late then replays showing the runner doing nothing unusual. Imagine it in the ninth inning. Of the World Series. In Game 7. Baseball doesn't need that kind of controversy and scrutiny about its procedural minutia.
The key is to ask a simple question: What happens at second base that's different from every other base?
When that question was applied to home plate, the answer was that runners could annihilate the fielder in order to jar the ball loose. It didn't happen at first, second or third. Only home. And the difference turned out to be extremely dangerous for everyone involved. So they got rid of it and the game hasn't suffered at all. There are still people who lust for home-plate collisions, and every time a catcher misses a runner with a swipe tag, they yell and froth. Evolution will pass these people by, though, and millennia after they die alone, paleontologists will study their bones with fascination.
When that question is applied to second base, the answer is that runners can peel off and annihilate the fielder in order to prevent him from throwing. It doesn't happen at first or third and it only rarely happens at home. As long as the runner can touch second base, it's treated as a special case, an asterisk in a set of rules that almost universally prohibit players from messing with fielders on purpose. And the difference turned out to be extremely dangerous for everyone involved. So they'll get rid of it and the game won't suffer at all.
The changes will probably have to do with the "if you can touch the base" rule. It's not going to be the gold standard anymore, which is fine considering it was a little hamfisted to begin with. It was a loose rule that translated to, "As long as a runner can touch the base after contorting his body in a way that he would never do in any other situation on the baseball field, we'll just have to deal with the injuries." The new rule will be something like, "Slide into second base, you dummies. Late if you have to, but just slide into the base."
The response will be angry words from people who make up words that end in "-ification," and then they'll wander off, scared and confused in a world that's increasingly not for them. Then the infield dirt will settle and baseball will be better for the rest of us. Players won't get hurt as much. Investments will be protected and careers will be extended.
Like with home-plate collisions, there will be a rough adjustment at first. It will get fixed. You won't even notice in a year. In a decade, you'll have to explain the way it used to be to new fans. We'll laugh at the way it used to be, just like we laugh at the Hal McRae slides of yore.
And baseball will be better. Don't think about how long it took to get here. Just think about how it's fixed going forward.
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SB Nation video archives: Baseball's unwritten rules (2013)